Oz the Great and Powerful aims for nostalgia in older viewers who grew up on The Wizard of Oz and still hold the classic dear while simultaneously enchanting a newer, younger audience.
It never really accomplishes either successfully.
A prequel to the groundbreaking 1939 picture, Oz can be very pretty but also overlong and repetitive, with a plot that’s more plodding than dazzling. Director Sam Raimi also is trying to find his own balance here between creating a big-budget, 3-D blockbuster and placing his signature stamp of kitschy, darkly humorous horror. He’s done the lavish CGI thing before, with diminishing results, in the Spider-Man trilogy, but here he has the daunting task of doing so while mining an even more treasured pop-culture phenomenon.
At its center is a miscast James Franco, co-star of Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, as the circus huckster who becomes the reluctant Wizard of Oz. Franco seems too boyish for the role; he’s neither charismatic nor self-loathing enough and his performance frequently consists of hammy goofing. So when his character does have a change of heart and decides to accept his destiny as a noble and inspiring leader, it rings hollow.
Before he gets there, though, he must journey through the Technicolor-tinted splendor of this wildly dreamlike place, not once but many times, which feels redundant. But then again, so does the whole structure of the film itself.
Like Dorothy, Franco’s Oscar Diggs is whisked away from sepia-toned, rural Kansas of 1905 through a tornado to the vibrantly hued, magical land. Like Dorothy, he walks along the yellow brick road with some new companions who have ties to his old life back home: a wisecracking, flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff, channeling Billy Crystal) and a spritely but resourceful china doll (voiced by Joey King).
And like Dorothy, once he reaches his destination, he must face a witch. But which witch is which?
First, he meets the beautiful and naive Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes he is the wonderful wizard her father, the king, said would come to save Oz in a prophecy before he was killed. Next comes Theodora’s sophisticated and deceitful sister, Evanora (a funny, vampy Rachel Weisz), who rules over Emerald City. Finally, there’s Glinda the Good Witch, played by a sweetly ethereal Michelle Williams.
Oz the Great and Powerful plays with the notion of making people believe through spectacle and trickery — that what you see is more important than what you actually get. But this time, something is missing in the magic.
Oz the Great and Powerful
Rated PG, 130 minutes.